Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of April 27, 2006

 Hey Joe: It's almost May and I just realized another Black History Month has come and gone and again I didn't do anything for it! What do you suggest for next year?

Roger Clinton, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Before the novelty wore off a few years ago, several of us former Negro Leaguers really enjoyed being invited to Black History functions each year. Nothing was more fulfilling than the welcomes we received as we related our experiences. It was reminiscent of the attention we often drew in so-called colored sections of predominantly white communities.

During those Black History affairs, I was interested in the stories told by my buddies because I was learning things about the Negro League and America. Their far-reaching tales covered portions of the lives of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Charles Drew, Benjamin Mays, the Tuskegee Airmen and others. Probably much of their information trickled down through generations, told by others in relation to blacks' greatness. What was so magnificent about these guys is that they were all educated at black schools.

Josh Johnson, before becoming principal at the all-black Dunbar High School in Madison, Illinois, starred in the Negro League. So did Cowan "Bubba" Hyde, Lee Moody and Gene Smith. Smith grew up in St. Louis and attended Sumner High. I believe it was this school that coined the phrase, "A race without a history is soon forgotten," and used it at one of its graduating classes during the 1930s. This has been blacks' fate since bondage. Despite a multitude of contributions to America, blacks have been discarded.

The event that is staged every February and regarded as Black History Month is only a snapshot of blacks' greatness. The ingenious idea and fight waged by Carter G. Woodson made it happen, but now it is time to move on. Without blacks' complete history, America has no history.

Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, "A half truth is no more than a whole lie." Had his crusade begun in 1929 rather than 1955, it would have been said that he was a credit to his race rather than a credit to humanity. Which brings into focus this avalanche of Ph.D.s, master's and B.A.s that saturate black communities. Sometimes I wonder if they are real or just for the sake of prestige. The novelty of "first black superintendent" and the word "educator" have outlived their usefulness. Now it is time to perform.

Hundreds of thousands of black kids need motivation, and this can be achieved by standing up and telling the so-called educational system to either put all of blacks' history throughout their school curriculums or kick that other historical junk out. Keep in mind the words of Frederick Douglass: "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has. It never will."

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to heyjoe@riverfronttimes.com. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

 
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